Why we shouldn’t separate art from the artist

Leaving Neverland, HBO’s newly released documentary, highlights the abuse two specific men suffered throughout their childhood at the hands of Michael Jackson.

And this wasn’t the first time the media has shed light on these allegations.

Way back in 2005, the Los Angeles Times collected a report made by Michael Jackson’s former housekeeper, Blanca Francia, outlining the evidence she held about the inappropriate relationship between Jackson and a 9-year old Australian boy, Wade Robson.

Robson wasn’t the only one either. Francia’s own son suffered from the abuse when Jackson requested Francia bring him to work with her. Her son, now 38, recalled at the 2005 trial that he was “sexually fondled” by Jackson at least three times in the past 18 years, placing the first occurrence of this when Francia’s son was only four years old.

Along with these, and many other allegations against him, Jackson denied them all at the time. His passing, already 10 years ago, secured that there would be no repercussions to face. Jackson’s family continues to explain to the media that these allegations are made up, and the documentary was produced solely for the money. They also went on to call the documentary a ‘public lynching.’

The disturbing realities of the HBO documentary raise many questions from fans of his music, but the most thought provoking one seems to be Is there a way to separate the art from the artist?

There has been story after story of pop culture icons exposed to the public as the horrible people they turn out to be behind the curtains. It always raises questions about whether the art an artist produces can be detached from the artist himself. 

Listening to Jackson’s music in 2019 may not necessarily make you immoral, though it is hard to ignore some specific albums released by Jackson in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when the alleged abuse happened, might have a more alarming meaning. When Jackson’s album Dangerous was released in 1991, most listeners interpreted it as a more “sexually suggestive” album, like “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Today’s listeners may feel unsettled in that the song could have a completely different explanation, and one that is incredibly disturbing. 

Many individuals can justify themselves listening to an abuser’s music, saying that one can’t simply disclaim a piece of art for the sole reason that the artist did any wrongdoing. But what happens when we separate art from the artist? 

A very modern example can be connected to rapper XXXTentacion, and the charge he was convicted of in October 2016. The rapper consistently made front-page news after the latest shocking details became widespread. Accused of “frequent and extensive” abuse, he was convicted with “aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, false imprisonment, domestic battery by strangulation, and witness-tampering” to name a few. And the abuse didn’t stop there. The victim explained how she was punched, kicked, stomped, and repeatedly threatened over the course of their relationship. 

The rapper’s fans easily swept these details under the rug and mindlessly continued to fight for him and support him through streaming his music and advocating for how strong he supposedly was. 

Michael Jackson and XXXTentacion aren’t the only names within recent allegations either. Kevin Spacey was charged on sexual assault with more than 30 different individuals coming forward to support this conviction. Comedian Louis C.K. publicly declared he “masturbated in front of women without their consent,” mocked transgender individuals, and ridiculed the survivors of the Parkland shooting. R. Kelly’s allegations date all the way back to the 1990s, consisting of child pornography, sexual assault and misconduct of underage women, and the managing of a sex cult. The list could go on and on.

Can you separate an artist and their art?

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The support your ‘problematic faves’ receive from you, not only permits exploitation of a situation but undermines the abuse the victims suffered. Furthermore, the support abusers are given can make future victims feel almost hopeless in their attempts to speak on their personal assaults. By forgetting an abuser’s immorality, we are giving abusers a pass on their actions, ultimately making it seem okay for other people to follow in their path.

The entertainment industry, for so many decades, allowed the authority and power men hold to be used as a weapon against so many people. Time and time again, this has been enabled, and mainly through people’s willingness to forget an abuser’s actions. 

There are an incredible amount of artists that are empowering and inspiring. And moral! If there is a white-supremacist led heavy metal folk band that you listen to, there is no doubt in my mind that there is a non-white-supremacist led heavy metal folk band out there for you to listen to and support.


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